The oldest film festival in Turkey, the Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival, is in turmoil after jury members resigned and filmmakers withdrew their works from the competition due to censorship allegations.
In an unprecedented move, the producers and directors of 27 entries for the festival announced their withdrawal on Wednesday. Just a few days earlier, 20 members of the festival jury had resigned, citing the removal of a documentary film by the organizers as the reason.
Kanun Hükmü (The Decree) by Nejla Demirci tells the story of two public service employees, a teacher and a doctor, who were dismissed during the state of emergency imposed in Turkey after the coup attempt in 2016.
The Turkish government, led by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), initiated a massive purge of state institutions following the coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Over 130,000 civil servants were dismissed from their positions via emergency decrees. Authorities claimed that they lost their jobs due to alleged connections to "terrorist organizations," but critics argue that the government targets anyone perceived as an opponent.
The festival's director, Ahmet Boyacıoğlu, explained that the documentary film was removed from the national documentary film category due to an ongoing legal case involving one of the actors. "For this reason, it was decided to exclude the film from this year's selection in order not to affect the court proceedings and impartiality," Boyacıoğlu said.
However, for director Demirci, this response is an "excuse" and "blatant censorship."
The filmmakers demanded respect for freedom of expression. The Free Art Assembly, representing artists from various fields, described the exclusion of the film as an "attack on artistic expression and creativity, as well as an attempt to normalize censorship in all artistic domains," and reinstated the documentary film in the Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival program.
The Ministry released the following statement on its social media account: "The Ministry of Culture and Tourism works with the vision to preserve, develop, and strengthen Turkey's cultural and artistic values." In line with this vision, they support "hundreds of cultural and artistic events" taking place both domestically and abroad.
"One of the most important events in Turkish cinema, the 60th Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival, is currently being organized. The documentary film 'Kanun Hükmü' will be shown in the documentary film competition section of this festival," the statement continued.
It is deeply regrettable that "such an important festival provides an opportunity to use the power of art to spread the propaganda of the FETÖ terrorist organization under the pretext of harassment." The Ministry will not participate in efforts to discredit the "heroic struggle our nation fought on July 15 or to use art as a means of provocation. For this reason, we announce our withdrawal from the Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival," the statement concluded.
In addition, the Mayor of Antalya, Muhittin Böcek, made the following statement: "In the past four years, the city of Antalya has not intervened in the formation of selection committees, the selection of juries, the content of films, or the decision of whether a film wins or not, and will not do so in the future. The national competition category, which was removed from the festival's program by the previous government, was reinstated during our term with great effort and conviction to bring the festival back to its core. This decision is the clearest evidence of our stance against censorship."
The festival, which has been held in the Mediterranean city of Antalya since 1963, is a highlight of the Turkish cultural calendar. This year, it is scheduled to take place from October 7 to 14. It is not yet known whether the festival will proceed as planned or if the filmmakers who withdrew their films will participate after the reinstatement of Kanun Hükmü.